During the pandemic, the mental health needs of parents and their children’s teachers rose to top of mind, as many suffered from isolation and the traumas that come with confronting the new world of teaching and learning online.
School districts began to understand that they had to do more to support the parents and teachers in their communities, said Jared Scherz, founder and CEO of TeacherCoach, based in Mount Laurel.
“We integrate personal growth and professional development, integrate organizational health and individual health, integrate family well-being with faculty well-being, and remote instruction with live programming,” he told NJTechWeekly.com.
TeacherCoach’s business model allows school districts to incorporate sponsorships and advertising into the teaching and coaching it offers, so they can offer important mental health offerings without breaking their budgets, he added.
Different revenue model
“When we bring on a school district, we can actually make this free and possibly revenue-generating for them,” he said. “This is what we figured out: School districts are solicited all year long by vendors. As long as those vendors aren’t pharmaceutical, soda or fast-food companies, or companies antithetical to our wellness model, they get the opportunity to sponsor training. When they sponsor a training, they might brand the portal or put branding inside an engagement. And then, they can create outward-facing advertising, which the sponsors can use to reach other districts. For example, they will see that the training is brought to them by XYZ insurance company.
“Some of our sponsors just want relationships with school districts.”
TeacherCoach sends out very short weekly messages about depression, resilience or ethics, for example. The brand can add a call to action at the bottom of the message — for example, “If you’d like a free quote on car insurance,” contact so-and-so.
The company, which makes money through school district purchases, is self-funded, Scherz stated, but not because investors don’t want to invest. Scherz told NJTechWeekly.com that he had recently turned down several offers from investors, but “This is such a philanthropic venture for me. I want to make sure we are not beholden to just anyone who puts in money. We certainly want to be profitable, because that is how we are sustainable, but first and foremost, our mission is to support school communities.”
TeacherCoach offers school districts modules that include mental health and social-emotional learning programming, which is created by experts and by professionals. The content is meant to be engaging, so that it will continue to be used.
For example, the company has partnered with the Walnut Street Theatre, in Philadelphia, to put together plays on such topics as equity and burnout, and they are performed live.
“We also record them, so that some teachers can watch with their students, to create a really interesting way for people to learn while being entertained,” Scherz said.
Another module focusses on the learning disability dyslexia, and is presented through the lens of a child with the disability.
“This particular training has an interview with a 12-year-old boy with dyslexia, as we bring you right into the pediatrician’s office and show you an examination of the child,” he added.
Additional modules on whole school health and psychosocial emotional learning will be out soon. Part two of the psychosocial emotional learning module will help people understand the nature of equity and trauma in mental health, and how they are all tied together, Scherz said.
“We go to great lengths to make it all really super interesting and deep and meaningful, whether it’s using actors, or whether it’s using some customized animation and motion graphics or some kind of live recording,” he added.
Learning Engagement System
Explaining how the system works, Scherz noted that each school district gets its own portal, which TeacherCoach calls a “Learning Engagement System.”
Scherz, who is a practicing psychologist, said he doesn’t like quick fixes. He wants people to understand the causes of the issues they are facing.
“If we know what’s generating it, we’re going to be able to be more empowered to figure out what we need to do,” he said. “We need to make the therapist more of a guide in creating more awareness.”
All of the learning is centered on self-reflective participants.
“If an educator can see themselves clearly in relation to the classroom — how are the students responding to them, how do they visualize them, what role do they see them in — and the teacher is aware of this, then the teacher does a much better job of figuring out how to engage with a particular student,” he said.
Much of the content on the site can be accessed by the families and school community, if the districts permit it to be used this way. Districts can manage the portal to allow families to have access to any training they want.
“This is my No. 1 dream,” Scherz said. “Whether its bullying, asthma or social-emotional learning, they can learn from content experts from all over the country. Families can have access to learning about anxiety, depression and relationship issues, and even sexual dysfunction. That has never happened before. And whether you’re living in a rural or urban area, you can get training on health and nutrition.”
Privacy, of course, is a very important aspect of the portal. While the school does get some statistical analyses, it is mostly anonymous.
“When an administrator goes into (the portal to) look at reports, they can see who is taking professional-development training. Anything in the personal growth side, which includes family, self and relationships, is all seen as generic, so they don’t know who’s taking what. On the professional development side, the administrators can drill down and get reports on tests. But, otherwise, users have complete privacy in the personal realm.”
Scherz said that the startup is finding traction and acceptance.
In New Jersey, TeacherCoach can be found in several school districts. It’s rolling out in all 25 districts in Sussex County, and Scherz believes Passaic County will be following shortly.
“We’ve had a nice relationship with the (New Jersey Association of School Administrators) and we’re partnered with the National Rural Education Association. And we have a few national sponsors,” he said.